A family slogs through the fallout of mental illness & tragedy in the brutally honest, wry-witted And So It Goes

Left: Deborah Drakeford & Scott McCulloch. Right: Tyshia Drake & Dan Willmott. Set & costume design by Kelly Wolf. Scenic art by Ksenia Ivanova. Lighting design by Chin Palipane. Photos by John Gundy.

 

Kyanite Theatre presents George F. Walker’s And So It Goes, directed by Walker, assisted by Martha Moldaver—running in the Pia Bouman Scotiabank Studio. A brutally honest, wry-witted family tragicomedy, the play’s title was inspired by a line from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five; and delivers the signature Walker punch to the gut realism with a side of dark humour, to highlight a critical social issue—in this case, the impact of a child’s mental illness on an already struggling family.

Karen (Tyshia Drake) is tormented with thoughts of people out to do her harm, while her father Ned (Dan Willmott) struggles to make ends meet after getting laid off his job as a financial advisor; and mother Gwen (Deborah Drakeford), a former Latin teacher, is at her wits end trying to maintain order amid the chaos. Charged with several alleged assaults, Karen is diagnosed with schizophrenia, a finding she neither accepts nor complies with—refusing to take her meds, and shutting herself off from her well-meaning good cop dad and controlling bad cop mom. In the background of this family’s life is an estranged son, who we never meet, who left home when Karen’s condition began to emerge. And then there’s Gwen’s imaginary confessor/therapist Kurt Vonnegut (Scott McCulloch), who she confides in—trading contradictory thoughts between glasses of white wine as she grapples with the fear and frustration of a world that’s gradually falling apart.

The upbeat Ned goes back to school to earn a pastry chef certificate; but even his positive outlook can’t withstand the family tragedy and financial ruin that ensues. Sifting through the debris of their lives for a way out—and who is to blame—he too reaches out to Vonnegut for advice. And acquires a gun. Gwen finds new footing with Karen as she begins to loosen her vice-like grip on the carefully tended middle-class world she once knew. As Gwen and Ned’s lives spiral downward to hit rock bottom, Ned hardens and Gwen softens. And the only directions from there appear to be out or up.

Lovely, heart-wrenching work from this ensemble in this fast-paced “life’s cocktail” of laughter and tears, and how humans cope with the fallout of tragedy and the destruction of the world as they know it. Drake is heartbreaking as the tormented Karen, who knows that something’s not right, but refuses to accept her diagnosis. The paranoia and voices in Karen’s head torture and exhaust her—aptly mirrored by Jeremy Hutton’s sound design, which features rapid-fire sound bites about mental illness and the negative impact on the economy and productivity, as well as the pervasiveness of depression and its connection to the current unemployment/EI situation.

Willmott’s Ned is a big, lovable bear of a dad with an equally big heart; the protective “good cop” parent in this family dynamic, Ned stays positive despite his daughter’s illness and wife’s sharp criticism. But even his sunny disposition loses its shine as their lives take a desperate turn—and he must decide if he will apply equally desperate measures. Drakeford’s Gwen is aggravating and deeply poignant; bitter, exhausted and longing for things to get back to normal, Gwen is the bad cop and harsh realist of the family. Desperately trying to put this family’s broken life back together, Gwen’s hyper-rational, sharp edges melt as she begins to let go and look for a new way to live. And McCulloch is a wry-witted, debating delight as Vonnegut; playing Devil’s Advocate and acting as a sound board for both Gwen and Ned, the imaginary friend and ghost Vonnegut is filtered through the thoughts and perceptions of whoever summons him.

Guns or lemon tarts? When faced with personal tragedy in the face of a society that’s losing its social conscience and sense of civility, we have the choice to descend into darkness or rise up into the light. And strive to build a new world from the rubble. One thing’s for certain: we need to pay more attention and apply more care to those who are losing their lives to mental illness, unemployment and despair.

And So It Goes continues in the Pia Bouman Scotiabank Studio until May 26, with evening performances Wed-Sat at 8:00; and matinées on Sat, May 18 and Sun, May 26 at 2:00. Advance tickets available online or pay cash at the door.

In the meantime, check out Arpita Ghosal’s interview with actor Deborah Drakeford in Sesaya.

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SummerWorks: The beginnings of a beautiful ode to the North in To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0

evalyn-620x500For my final SummerWorks production, I returned to Studio C of the Pia Bouman School for Creative Movement to see the closing night performance of Evalyn Parry’s To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0. You can read the post about my visit to the installation here.

The table of objects and remembrances of visitors’ experiences of the North has been moved to the side of the space to accommodate chairs for an audience. The stage is set against the back wall, designed to look like a wall of ice.

Frank, the studio cat, lounges upstage right and eventually wanders about during the course of Parry’s performance. This is his space, after all, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that he inserted himself into the show.

Weaving history, songs, personal anecdotes and images of her trip to Greenland with Students on Ice, along with some visitor interview excerpts recorded during the installation’s residency at SummerWorks, Parry takes us from the Franklin expedition to the present day, winding through exploration, a brief history of the Dominion’s early and shameful relationship with the Inuit, to her own personal thoughts and experiences of the North. The performance has a kitchen party quality to it, especially when we are invited to turn our chairs around to face the map, with Parry’s soundscaping and singing continuing throughout, in a crystal clear and soothing, mantra-like celtic folk style. Parry’s father David, who was a folk singer and member of The Friends of Fiddlers Green, also features prominently in the performance – and To Live in the Age of Melting may be as much an homage to him as it is to the landscape.

History, geography, ecology, politics, art and culture merge in this moving and enlightening performance. And although the SummerWorks installation and performance is now over, this is just the beginning of Parry’s exploration. She plans to continue honing this work, and will go on to conduct a similar examination of Northern views of the South.

Evalyn Parry’s To Live in an Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0 is the beginnings of a beautiful ode to the North.

Keep an eye out for Evalyn Parry and To Live in an Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0 – and its continuing evolution and addition of Northerners’ perspectives.

Installation kitty
Frank, the Pia Bouman studio cat, lounges on Parry’s t-shirt on the exhibit table

 

SummerWorks: Joy, energy & pathos in If Hearts Could Bloom

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Amy Wong & Tamara Kailas

Another delightful group of young actors opened their SummerWorks show at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night: the Sears Drama Festival production of Bur Oak Secondary School’s show If Hearts Could Bloom, written by James Croker and Cameron Ferguson, inspired by a story by Preston Lam.

Directed by Ferguson, with choreography by Ferguson, Croker and Christel Bartelse, and film directed by Cody Clayton, If Hearts Could Bloom combines clown, comedia and physical theatre to tell a story that tackles some serious issues: individuality/conformity, bullying/courage, sexism and harassment, ageism, greed and power, and gender identity.

A short, silent film sets the stage for the social order of this world. A Mad Scientist (Jeremy Chong) creates clowns with yellow hearts, but when he tries something different – a purple heart that makes the clown behave differently than the others – Corporate Greed Man (Jeremy Tremblett) responds with an emphatic No! The Mad Scientist caves in, apparently needing the money, and goes back to using yellow hearts. And off we go, into the live onstage journey of a special young clown, born with a purple heart.

There are some truly lovely moments in this show: the sweet, fast-paced meeting, courtship, marriage and arrival of a baby for Everyperson’s Mom (Kainaat Rizvi) and Dad (Cody Clayton) – and the delivery scene with the Doctor (Shareesa Haniff) was hilarious. And Everyperson (Tamara Kailas) and Everywoman (Amy Wong) had an equally adorable meet cute at a children’s birthday party, where Everywoman is the only kid who doesn’t think Everyperson is a freak; the two actors did a lovely job with this bashful, burgeoning relationship. I also loved the school bus bit and the clown Elvis (Bianca Dias, who also co-directed the film segment) at the variety show, as well as the squeals of delight from Everyperson’s rubber chicken bit – the laughter was contagious. This is a show that keeps the audience engaged and attentive, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Ultimately, this is a show about love and courage.

If Hearts Could Bloom is a hilariously funny, sweetly poignant and thought-provoking multi-media clown show, featuring a bright young cast who bring all the joy, energy and pathos.

If Hearts Could Bloom continues its run for two more performances at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman: tonight (Fri, Aug 15) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, Aug 16 at 1:30 p.m.

SummerWorks: Installation & audience contribution leading up to performance of To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0

evalyn-620x500It was a chillier than usual August night in Toronto last night – and I found myself purchasing hot chocolate and wishing I’d brought a jacket, which felt odd – but it was what it was. To be honest, I’ve really been enjoying this cooler summer. I had some time before my next show, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop by Studio C of the Pia Bouman School for Creative Movement to check out Evalyn Parry’s work in progress – with fellow creators/performers Elysha Poirier and Laakkaluk Bathory Williams – for OutSpoke Productions’ To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0, part of this year’s SummerWorks Live Art Series.

The first phase of To Live in the Age of Melting is part installation, part viewer participation, as Parry collects objects and images from patrons of their experiences of the North, and asks people if they’d like to be interviewed about their thoughts and perceptions of the North.

Featured prominently when you first enter the space is a giant map of Canada. Visitors are invited to share how far north they’ve been – and Parry’s assistants (in my case last night, SummerWorks volunteer Pauline and Aidan) will plot your destination on the map, from start to finish, using pins and colour-coded string/thread. In my case, it’s the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), Ontario to North Bay, Ontario; my thread is black, as I took the trip by car (with my family when I was around 10-12 years old, when my mother’s sister and her family lived in Callendar, ON).

I also took the opportunity to be interviewed. Since I’m not down with spoilers, I won’t mention the specific questions Parry asked me, but I will say they were extremely thought-provoking and interesting. A reminder of relative perspective – when I think of “North,” in terms of perceived geography, I think of it as starting around North Bay – but that’s the farthest I’ve been, so that will be different for someone who’s been to NWT, Yukon, Nunavut or Iqaluit. It was a pleasure chatting with Parry, and I look forward to seeing the work come together in the performance this weekend.

The assembled personal artifacts and interviews will contribute to the final performance piece, which will also be a work in progress (as the installation and viewer contributions continue daily from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.) – with performances running Aug 15-17 at 9 p.m.

Here are some snaps I took of this work in progress last night:

 

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In the meantime, check out NOW Magazine’s piece by Glenn Sumi, where he speaks with Parry about, among other things, her two SummerWorks projects: directing Shaista Latif’s Graceful Rebellions and the genesis of her work on To Live in the Age of Melting.

SummerWorks: Captivating living collage of memory & restoration in Blindsided

BLINDSIDEDimage-CopyWas back at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman for more SummerWorks adventures last night, for a couple of things – but first, I’d like to talk about Fée Fatale’s production of Sabrina Reeves’ Blindsided, directed by Matt Holland, with film editing by Paolo Santos and video installation by Jacques Poulin-Denis.

Blindsided is a multi-media journey of perception and memory, triggered by a cycling accident – and we see Hayley’s life flash before her eyes. Hayley Hughes teaches a film restoration class – more specifically, the work of her famous grandmother Nan Hughes – and the piece begins with Reeves entering, as Hayley, into the world of the classroom. We are her students and she is the exacting, yet wryly funny, prof.

In a powerful, and also archly funny, performance, Reeves takes on several characters in addition to Hayley: Nan; Hayley’s brother Declan; and a glamourous German film actress, notorious for acting in Nazi films as a child (a subject in some found footage that came into Nan’s possession, and fascinated Hayley and Declan). As Reeves morphs in and out of these characters, and opens up the folding flats to reveal yet another layer of the playing area, snatches of moments from Hayley’s cycling accident appear, then moments from childhood when she and Declan stayed with Nan – and a horrible childhood accident of a friend.

Film restoration becomes a metaphor for restoring a life. In the classroom scene, Hayley tells us that the first step to restoring a piece of film is to assess the damage. We also learn that Nan’s greatest career achievement came through an accident. Accidents have the resulting impact of permanently changing the subject – but not necessarily in a bad way. And like old film stock, we are delicate things, but when handled with great care we can be mended. But, after an accident, things are never the same.

Blindsided is a captivating living collage of moving pictures, memory, mixing art and science, and putting what’s broken back together.

Blindsided continues its run for three more performances at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman until Sun, Aug 17 – see here for exact times/dates.

SummerWorks: New blood performs original piece in Transfusions

transfusionsWas back at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at Pia Bouman to see the AMY Project’s production Transfusions in the SummerWorks fest, co-directed by Maya Rabinovich (who also directed Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales for SummerWorks) and Lisa Codrington, with assistant director Chiamaka Gloria Ugwu.

Transfusions is an original piece, the result of arts education workshopping and mentoring, featuring an ensemble cast of nine young women: Clover Fannin, Natalie Jules, Anna Laribi, Tiffiney Manios, Lia Reyes, Patricia Sailer, Andrea Villanueva, Sara Yacobi-Harris and Natalie Yiu.

Framed with the journey of a rookie red blood cell stepping up on its first day on the job, the piece examines the theme of blood from various angles: menstruation/passage into womanhood and the fight/flight response – via a stressful nightmare math test of negative inner voices and standing up to bullying – as well as mothers and heredity, passion, sickness, and sexuality and slut-shaming.

On its journey from the head to the heart to the groin, Transfusions is a kaleidoscope of music, movement, scenes and spoken word on the theme of blood with an engaging and energetic cast of young women.

You have one more chance to see it – tonight (Tues, Aug 12) at 6:00 p.m.

SummerWorks: Kick-ass rock & ongoing disruptive shenanigans @ Army Girls/Cara Spooner Failure Fest

armygirlsMusic and intentional performance disruption at Army Girls/Cara Spooner Failure Fest, with opening act Omhouse, at a one-night only SummerWorks performance at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night.

Omhouse brought a kick-ass set of trippy rock, playing in front of a large projected illustration of the four-member band.

For the main event, Cara Spooner started to shake things up even before Army Girls (Carmen Elle of DIANA on vocals and guitar, and Andy Smith on drums) started playing, reversing the audience and staging spaces, setting the scene for ongoing shit disturbance and shenanigans throughout the duration of the band’s kicky, indie rock sound set. Spooner’s impish antics were both fascinating and hilarious, keeping us all on our toes – a woman after my own heart.

The Failure Fest title comes from the fact that Army Girls set out to play “orphaned” songs, once thought awesome and now abandoned as embarrassing shit. And with Spooner moving with the music, beside and through the scene – and moving the microphone, sound equipment and even the drum kit (piece by piece!) – the band and audience can’t help but have a new perspective.

Makes me wonder how Army Girls feels about these songs now.

Here are some snaps I took last night:

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